In 1949, four years after World War II ended, South Pacific, a Tony Award-winning musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein, opened on Broadway and ran for nearly 2,000 performances.
Sixty-four years later, the haunting Bali Ha'i still calls.
The American classic opens Friday at Largo's Eight O'Clock Theatre with a cast of 30 and a list of soaring show tunes, including Some Enchanted Evening, Younger than Springtime, I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair, There is Nothing Like a Dame and others.
It runs through Sept. 22.
The production is directed by Linda Weir, a child of the '60s and lifelong fan of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. Twelve years ago, she directed her first R & H musical at the theater, Carousel. Others such as State Fair, The Sound of Music and Oklahoma! have helped feather her director's cap.
Cast members say Weir is a sucker for romance.
"She'll say, 'This scene needs a kiss,' " said Sadra Bostick, a 39-year-old curriculum specialist for Pinellas County Schools who plays the lead role of Nellie Forbush. "Then she'll say, 'It needs another kiss.' "
If the show is about the heart, it is most certainly about the soul, too.
"I think South Pacific is extremely relevant today because of its themes of racism and war," said Weir. "It makes you stop and think about who we are as humans and how we need to treat each other."
She's dedicating the show to all the men and women who have served our country, including her father, Marion "Woody" Woodruff, a Seabee who served in the South Pacific.
Set against the backdrop of a lush tropical island during World War II, the musical tells the story of two couples and how their love is imperiled by the uncertainties of war and their own racial prejudices. The plot is based on James Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning book Tales of the South Pacific.
In the show, Bostick's character, nurse Nellie, falls in love with Emile DeBeque, a French plantation owner and the father of two biracial children. Though she is smitten with Emile, she wrestles with the fact that his children aren't white.
Rand Smith, 48, is cast as Emile and said he perfected his French accent with the help of French teacher Ginny Fraebel.
A second romance conveys a similar racial divide as Lt. Joe Cable (Nick Abounader) worries what the folks back home would say if he married his Asian love, Liat (Caitlin Greene).
Mona Lim plays Bloody Mary, a sassy Tonkinese who peddles grass skirts and banters with the sailors.
Lim, 49, is of Korean ancestry but says she "grew up in Iowa surrounded by white people" so she had to channel her "inner Asian" for the part.
She says she was raised by an "Asian tiger mom" and was studying to be a doctor at Yale when the theater bug bit her and she dropped out. She teaches performing arts at Clearwater Academy International but hasn't acted for 18 years and is happy to be back on stage.
"Playing Bloody Mary is the funniest role I've ever had," she said.
Stephan Bielawski, 49, plays wise guy and petty officer Luther Billis. The retired Navy sailor hadn't acted since his childhood years and was hoping to nab a small role.
"I told them I don't sing or dance," he said. He auditioned by singing Happy Birthday.
He won the prominent role by watching YouTube videos and tapping into his inner sailor, he said.
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